How to hire talents – The Interviews

Welcome to part four of our How to Hire Talents series. In the first part we looked at the roles in the hiring process, in the second part we looked at how we can make candidates aware of us and our position. In the third part we examined how best to prepare for the interviews. In this part we will now get in touch with the candidate and see how you can design the interview process. 

Before you start

So, now the big day has come and the candidate is sitting in front of you. And now? After the obligatory greeting, first look at the candidate. Is he nervous? Does she look exhausted? What do you already know?

First, make sure the candidate is comfortable.

It may be that the candidate has already had two, three or more interviews. In this case, offer her a short break. Everyone needs a breather, a glass of water or a bio-break during long interview sessions. This little attention can help all involved parties to approach the interview in a more relaxed way.

Some candidates are very nervous at first, even if it is not always obvious. Not everyone likes being interviewed. If they seem particularly agitated, try to lighten the situation. Explain to the candidate that they have nothing to fear and ask how they are. This gives the other person a chance to open up.

A “How are you?” – “I’m a little nervous” – “Don’t worry, nothing can happen to you” has helped many times.

If you notice that the candidate seems particularly nervous, you can also start with a little small talk. A short chat about the weather shows that you’re not just a query machine that wants to find even the smallest mistake.

Don’t start your interview with hard-hitting questions, but tell a little about yourself and then let the candidate talk freely. If you want to have an open conversation in which the candidate presents himself as he is, create a relaxed environment.

By the way, even if it sounds banal: a friendly smile at the beginning of the interview (and also in between) can help immensely to make the candidate feel comfortable.

Be friendly, be nice, be attentive. It goes without saying, doesn’t it?

You are not the only one asking the questions here!

A mistake that can be observed from time to time is that the interviewer uses up the interview time until the last question and then smiles and wishes the candidate a good day. Do not make this mistake. The interview is not only for you to learn everything about the candidate, but also for them to have the opportunity to learn more about you, the company, the team or other things that interest them.

So leave enough time at the end of the interview. For an hour-long interview, 10 minutes is a good number.

Also, answer the questions honestly and don’t try to construct something that the company can’t offer later. This may lead to a short-term hiring success, but it increases the chance that the candidate will leave during the probationary period if you cannot keep your promises. And this is not only counterproductive because you have to start the hiring process all over again, but also simply unfair to the candidate. Starting a relationship (in any context) with untruths is generally not a good idea.

Pre-filter – pre-screening interviews

In the previous part, we already dealt with the question of how many interviews you should conduct. If the answer is “more than two”, then you should divide the interviews into “pre-screening” and “finals”.

The task of pre-screening interviews is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Only after a successful pre-screening-interview you invite the candidate to all other interviews. 

Unfortunately, not every candidate delivers what the application promises. If you realise after the first 10 minutes that it’s not going to be a good fit, and you know that there will be three more interviews that day, then you’re in a quandary. If you cancel all the interviews now, the candidate will be very frustrated, and word can get out and reflect badly on your company and its interview process. If you go through with the interviews, you waste precious resources.

That’s why pre-screening is one of the most important interviews and should be the most carefully thought out. If you filter too much, you lose potential opportunities, and if you filter too little, you waste time that you could invest in other candidates.

It is important in the pre-screening that you check both mindset and professionalism. Usually you check if the candidate fits the value system of your company (I hope you have one, if not make it) and if there is a basic technical understanding. Depending on the position you want to fill, it might be a good idea to do the pre-screening in one interview or to split it into a mindset interview and a technical interview. Either way, do yourself a favour and use experienced interviewers. Because as I said: the pre-screening is one of the most important interviews, as it helps you not to waste time.

The finals

Once the candidate has made it through the pre-screening interviews, it’s time for the finals. Here you check everything to get a rounded picture of the potential new employee. The screenings give you the assurance that the most important points have already been knocked off, so now you can go into more depth. Check the technical suitability of the candidate. The aim of the finals is not only to find out whether the candidate fits the company and/or the team, but also the grading. This means that you now carefully check whether the candidate (from the interviewers’ point of view) is a junior, a senior or something in between.

You have to decide for yourself how important the proportion of each topic is for you. I would advise at this point, even though you have already checked the mindset in the pre-screenings, to set up another complete interview here to illuminate the candidate from his or her personality. If you were not part of the pre-screening interviews as a hiring manager, this is your opportunity to find out whether the candidate fits into the team or not.

The Hiring Manager Interview – Sell yourself

Another interview in the finals is the Hiring Manager interview. Usually you are active here and speak to the candidate for the first time (if you were not already active in the pre-screening). You can structure the interview the way you want. However, I would advise you to focus less on the technical aspects (your colleagues can do that) and more on character and personality. After all, who, if not you, should know what best suits your team.

For me, the hiring manager interview is one of the most important in the whole process, if not the most important. Why? Simple. As you probably know, very few employees resign from their company but usually from their manager. This means that there is a very high probability that the employee wants to leave his or her previous employer (or has left) because there were problems with the superior.

What do you think will be important to such an employee in his new job? – Right, a good leader. And that’s exactly who should be sitting in front of the candidates now. Make one thing clear: The relationship with your future employee already starts in this interview. It is not only about the candidate convincing you, but also about you convincing the candidate that you are the right future manager for them.

Another reason for the importance of this interview is: You are hiring for mindset not for skills. And here is your chance to find out what makes the candidate tick.

What drives him? What motivates her? Does she fit into the team? Does he have a quality that you might still be lacking in the team? Does he have the potential to develop further? Does she fit in with the team’s values?

All of this needs to be found out in this interview. Because you could train skills later, when the passion is there. That costs you a little money and time. Changing someone’s mindset is much more difficult, if not impossible. So pay close attention to the personality and that it fits you.

Go through the interview

Sometimes you realise after the first few minutes that there is no spark between you and the candidate. What do you do then? Do you stop the interview?

No! You have selected the candidate from hundreds of others, maybe sent them a practical test items and/or run them through the pre-screenings. Now give them the opportunity to show what they can do. You can’t decide that after five minutes.

And who knows, maybe you are wrong and the candidate just needed a few minutes to warm up. I can say from my own experience that it has happened to me several times that a candidate with whom I thought “this is not going to work out” after a short time surprised me at some point.

Give the candidate a fair chance, because your gut feeling can also be wrong.

The Decision

After the finals are over, you have to make a decision. To do this, you sit down with the other interviewers and discuss the results of the individual interviews.

It is important that you let every opinion have its say and don’t let yourself be influenced by your own interview in advance. Because every interview has a different view of the candidate, it may well be that different results come to light between the individual interviewers.

It is helpful if the interviewers have already written down the results of their interview. This enables you as the hiring manager to read how the individual interviewers assess the candidate before the decision round. This way you can get an idea beforehand.

You should also consider beforehand which questions you still have about the interviewers’ notes, or which aspects you would like to ask about in more depth. Ask the interviewers to give you a grading in advance in the notes. This is important because it often happens that interviewers are influenced by statements made by other employees.

And then comes the big moment: the interviewers have given their assessment and a decision has to be made. Everyone is now looking at you. Because this is the moment when you alone have to make the decision whether or not to make the candidate an offer. This is a difficult moment, because if you let a good candidate go because you are too critical, you have lost time and it will take longer for your team to get the support it needs. But if you hire the wrong person, you risk unrest and problems in your team.

No one can help you make a decision, but if you have set up the process well, checked the job advertisements meticulously, trained your interviewer, checked for subconscious biases and looked objectively at the assessments of all the interviewers, then you are well placed to make a decision.

Make a decision quickly

However you come to the decision, it doesn’t matter, as long as you make it quickly. For one thing, we are still in the war for talents, and the candidate is most likely talking to other companies, too. On the other hand, it is of course rude to keep the candidate waiting.

If it unfortunately turns out that the candidate and you are not a good match, then give the candidate feedback on what didn’t fit. This will help them to work on possible weaknesses, to learn from the interview and to become better. And who knows, maybe they will apply to you again in one or two years and will then be hired.

Of course, this feedback should be given according to classic feedback rules. In other words, it should be benevolent, fact-based and accompanied by possible development suggestions. If you have a talent acquisition partner and are not in direct contact with the candidate, it is a good idea to discuss the feedback with your colleague.

It doesn’t have to be perfect

We already talked about the fact that it doesn’t always have to be the perfect candidate. So you don’t have to set your standards too high. But even if you don’t set the level too high, it can sometimes happen that you stumble over individual issues and doubt whether it really makes sense with the candidate.

In this case, always ask yourself if the observation is really a red flag or if it is something that can disappear all by itself with a little training and support. It can just happen sometimes that you get too attached to little things you observed in the interviews. For example, was the candidate overly nervous? Did the candidate perhaps not have a particularly clear pronunciation? Did they stumble over a technical aspect that can be learned relatively quickly?

Sometimes you get hung up on such things, turn down a candidate and then get annoyed later that you didn’t give them a chance. So check the negative points of criticism that came up in the interviews to see whether they are something you can train away or not. And if it can be trained away, trust in your abilities as a leader to support the employee.

In addition, try to gather as many facts as possible to go against your gut feeling. Because we all have subconscious biases that influence our actions and decisions. For example, I once had an interview with a candidate about whom I did not have a good gut feeling. I doubted whether the topics we could offer him would really be enough, or whether the candidate would not leave us in a short time due to boredom. After some thought and exchange with my Talent Acquisition Partner, I decided to hire the candidate. A stroke of luck, as it turned out in retrospect.

So listen to yourself, but also look at the facts that are on the table. Because it doesn’t always have to be perfect. Employees will constantly develop. And if it really didn’t work out once, and the interviews weren’t able to find out that the candidate really wasn’t a good fit, there’s always the probationary period. During this period, you usually have six months to help the candidate get on track.

In the end

At this point I would like to end the series on the topic of interviews for the time being. Of course, the field is much, much larger and we could go into many more topics. But the goal of this little series was to give you some food for thought and ideas on the topic of hiring, so that you can perhaps make your interview process a little better.

But with all the tips and tricks, always remember that hiring is sometimes just a matter of luck. Maybe you are too slow. Maybe you’re too fast sometimes. Maybe the time hasn’t come when you can really get the candidate excited about you or when they are open to leaving their current job to join your team.

So don’t be discouraged if things go wrong from time to time. In my experience, after months of unsuccessful hiring, you may suddenly find yourself filling three positions within two weeks. That is part of the game.

And always remember: The relationship with your employees starts with the hiring process!

In this sense: Happy hiring.

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